Treasure Hunters Get Away with Suspended Sentences in High Profile Trial in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik

Some of the artifacts seized from Zdravkov and Peev at the time of their arrest in April 2013. Photo: Interior Ministry Press Center

Some of the artifacts seized from Zdravkov and Peev at the time of their arrest in April 2013. Photo: Interior Ministry Press Center

Three men have been found guilty of treasure hunting and antiques trafficking in a high profile trial in the southern Bulgarian city of Pazardzhik but have gotten away with suspended sentences.

The defendants, Dimitar Zdravkov, 46, aka Palyonkata, and Angel Peev, aka Malkiya, were arrested exactly 3 years ago, in April 2013, in a special operation of the Bulgarian police at the time of a deal for the sale of valuable archaeological artifacts at a location along the route of the Trakiya Highway in Southern Bulgaria.

At the time of their arrest, the police seized from them over 200 gold and silver Antiquity coins, and over 70 different archaeological artifacts, including five ancient rings, gold-coated decorations, a bronze figure of mythical hero Hercules (Heracles), and several Antiquity vessels.

Zdravkov, who is also known as the husband of Bulgarian fashion designer Virginia Zdravkova, has been found guilty of all charges, including of leading an international antique trafficking ring, reports Darik Plovdiv.

He has received a three-year suspended sentence with five-year probation. Peev has been sentenced to 2.9 years with four-year probation.

A third man, Georgi Tihlev, a native of the town of Susam, Haskovo District, has received a two-year suspended sentence with four-year probation. He has been sentenced for selling the other two men a total of 177 ancient and medieval coins worth BGN 8,280 (app. EUR 4,000) (and possibly much more on the black market).

All artifacts seized from the three treasure hunters have been transferred to the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History.

In May 2015, Tihlev was caught by the police with an Ancient Greek red-figure pottery krater, a special vessel for mixing wine (and water).

Before issuing the verdict against Zdravkov, Peev, and Tihlev, the District Court in the southern Bulgarian city of Pazardzhik had postponed the hearing of the trial of two high profile traffickers of archaeological artifacts several times.

Reports citing Bulgarian anti-mafia policemen from the directorate in charge of fighting the trafficking of cultural heritage artifacts allege that Zdravkov and Peev are “major dealers of Bulgarian antiques abroad".

According to the charges filed by the prosecution, the two men operate a ring smuggling archaeological artifacts from Bulgaria to Munich, Germany, where Zdravkov’s wife, Virginiya Zdravkova, a famous clothing designer, owns a store for designer clothes, with her husband serving as the store’s manager.

The investigators claim that the antiques trafficking channel run by the two defendants has enjoyed political protection for years.

Most of the artifacts confiscated at the time of the two men’s arrested are unique items whose value cannot be calculated, reports say.

Treasure hunting and the trafficking of antiques are rampant crimes all over Bulgaria bringing the mafia hundreds of millions of euro every year while destroying irreparably the country’s invaluable cultural heritage.

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The arrest of Zdravkov and Peev who are said to be bosses of a high profile ring for the smuggling of archaeological artifacts from Bulgaria to Germany back in April 2013 in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: BNR

The arrest of Zdravkov and Peev who are said to be bosses of a high profile ring for the smuggling of archaeological artifacts from Bulgaria to Germany back in April 2013 in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: BNR

Background Infonotes:

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking.

An estimate made in November 2014 by the Forum Association, a NGO, suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.

According to an estimate by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the Sofia-based National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, up to USD 1 billion worth of archaeological artifacts might be smuggled out of Bulgaria annually.

According to the estimate of another archaeologist from the Institute, Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov, there might be as many as 500,000 people dealing with treasure hunting in Bulgaria.

One of the most compelling reports in international media on Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight is the 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past" (in whose making a member of the ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com participated). Focusing on the fate of the Ancient Roman colony Ratiaria in Northwest Bulgaria, the film makes it clear that treasure hunting destruction happens all over the country on a daily basis.

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